Lowak Shoppala ̍ (Fire & Light)

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Lowak Shoppala ̍ (Fire and Light) is a work that expresses Chickasaw identity through the medium of modern classical music and theatre. The work is in eight scenes and features orchestra, narration, children’s chorus, traditional Chickasaw and modern dancers, traditional Chickasaw and classical vocal soloists and Chickasaw storytellers. Each scene depicts a part of Chickasaw culture and history:

Scene 1: Fire and Light
Scene 2: Double Header
Scene 3: Shell Shaker
Scene 4: Clans
Scene 5: Removal
Scene 6: Spider Brings Fire
Scene 7: Hymn
Scene 8: Double Header/Finale

Lowak Shoppala ̍ was conceived, designed and composed by Jerod Impichchaachaaha ̍ Tate and premiered Saturday, November 21, 2009 at the Te Ata Theatre, East Central University, Ada, Oklahoma with Mr. Tate conducting the Oklahoma Youth Orchestra.

Lowak Shoppala ̍ Libretto
by Linda Hogan

Scene 1: Fire and Light
The Creator and the Grandmother of all life know how to give good gifts.
They are the ones our ancestors trusted on the journey towards home,
carrying sacred flame.

In earth wisdom and faith
they carried sacred fire from place to place as they followed
the pole, planted at night, that leaned, pointing the direction of our
always the people, carrying fire, ready to travel in morning light,
the sun in its place.

It traveled with us nights,
beneath the fire of stars and moon, beneath far galaxies and
falling stars.
The turning wheel of constellations,
Turtle in our sky, the ones called Deer and Wolf,
the tribal fire set down beside the night-shine of animal eyes,
the sounds of locusts,
and by day beneath the flight of eagles,
alongside the journeys of deer, bear, and elk.

In dark times, yet an ember burned, a stick of kindling as if
the fire alone knew it was a map
we would one day follow back to our source…

Our fire opens the sky.

We are trusted to keep that fire strong.
It illuminates the darkness of history, lighting the path for
those who hold it.
It is made to burn bright, lighting the path for those who
will follow.

Creation has placed within each of us a fire like the sacred
fire carried by our old ones.
This fire will seek us out, call to us.

Scene 2: Double Header
Vocables throughout.

Scene 3: Shell Shaker
We have always had the power of a story.
Once we hear, we can learn.
Once we learn, we can understand.
Once we understand, we are wiser.
Once we are wiser, we see clearly.
Once we are wise, we tend our fire with vigilance and care, and pass it on.

Old woman speaking:

“Long ago, in other times, before we learned to be kind to animals, there was a girl. She was slow and could not run. Because she couldn’t keep up with the other children, they, who had not learned kindness, were unkind to her. Because she was slow, they teased her and called her Turtle.

So Loksi ̍ was her name.

This girl loved the animals and she remembered to care for them, and she also remembered to greet and praise the sunrise every morning.

And so the girl, Loski ̍, went to the great river one summer evening. She remembered that her grandmother said the Chikasha spoke their troubles to the water. She waded out in the water and she bent over with her hand across her face. She stood there and opened her heart to the water and she cried.

When her long hair fell into the water and her tears became part of the water, the river stopped moving. The water stood still and listened. It heard her weeping and listened. Then the river spoke. It told her not to return but to go live in the thick trees of the forest.

She went to the trees to dwell. In the woods, she found herself living with the turtle people. Perhaps they understood her because she was slow. One day from out of a great mound walked the god of turtles. What kindly eyes the strong old turtle had. The minko of the turtles said to her: Tell your people they have made my people suffer. They have not been kind to us or treated us with mercy. Go to them now and tell them to treat us with care and respect.

The turtle god gave her shells to take back. They were filled with river pebbles and seeds. Their sound resembled the flow of the river. Their sound contained the rains.

And so she returned and took her story to the council of old women and men. The old women and men met and said: She has returned to us after all these years a beautiful woman who tells the truth. We must honor the turtles. These shells have the music of rivers and rain and locusts. We will make these shells into musical instruments and then follow their rhythms when we have ceremonies and dances to praise the great creation. And because it is the girl who brings them to us, only the women will wear them to dance.

Now the men stand outside the fire at night in darkness when the corn is planted, and while it is growing. They stand ready to dance and they call in the turtles, remembering the girl and how to treat the world.

Loksi ̍, Loksi ̍, Loksi ̍. Minti. Turtle. Turtle. Come.

And we have respect for the turtle people who gave us our dance.

We have all been given the fire.
Let us burn our way into the world,
let it light our dreams.
It will take us beautiful and grace-filled
through the future
the ones our grandmothers and grandfathers dreamed
for us as they journeyed
as they carried us inside them
in the time before ours.

Scene 4: Clans

I stand in the green world,
its strands woven in all our breaths,
the delicate, the strong.
I am like seed, a memory of the future.
We are beautiful people, look how we
make a path for those we care for, light a fire,
sweep the path between us, human,
all my people it is time for the story
of a night of telling, the word another seed.

Bird (Foshi ̍)
Wing, feather, light,
we make our houses of red grasses
or rushes at the river, of twig
and horse hair, and soft moss.
We live in clay
and the dark holes of trees.
With our minds of hummingbird, woodpecker, owl
you do not see us sleeping
in the deep quiet of our nesting places
only that most of us wake before first light
to announce the world is still here.

Alligator (Acho‘chaba’)
I am the river bottom.
I am the dead log on water,
half-smiling, the most deceptive of all.
You would not know this moss,
these short legs, the eyes that shine
two fires in the dark of night
able to fly, oh this log of a body ,
really a living tree, the river bottom rising
and how you think no danger is anywhere so fast
in the stillness of this hold.

Squirrel (Fani’)
From the nest high off the ground
with the speed of a falling leaf
we look down on you and never do you know
except the tail which gives us away
or the apples stolen from the trees.
But ah, how we care for the little ones
and chatter as if ice had come
when it hasn’t, and pass from
canopy to swaying leaf
so lithe, a mouth filled with nuts
and seeds, and the little red fire of tail
following beneath the clouds.

Skunk (Koni)
Beautiful as night and day,
deep as the color of dark sky
with the milky way down my back,
I am all soft fur, sweet face,
but my smell inspires the fear of others.
Even the large run from me
And if the others do come to our secret places,
toward our young,
the lovely, slow, and loneliest fire of all,
we run, tail in air,
like a running tree, a pole,
with the milky way down its back.

Panther (Kowishto’ Losa’)
Warrior eyes at night, so silent
no one knows when she’s about
all sleek and muscle, ears like shells
that could hear the ocean from far away.
She admired our songs, our beauty,
the goodness she watched from hidden shadows.
She watched us gather fruit
and heard us talking, that creature
so beautiful and tawny,
the paws of first morning,
all that we see of her brilliant fire in this world.

Raccoon (Shawi’)
Oh, striped tail, mask,
intelligent lover of peaches, grapes
and stolen things. We wash our food at the cleansing river.
Our long dark fingers keep busy
and we visit the conjurer at night. That’s why we are clever
night creatures on the prowl
going through your things
twigs in our striped fur, eyes hidden,
dressed as trees and shadows
looking through the hidden places
with another set of eyes.

And at the end of the spoken, the sung,
the dreamed into life and the fire, that is when
we are new and begin, the clouds rise up,
the creative life has spoken through all the nights
and fires, all along the sacred forest and river and stone
with its own words. The telling could begin
and once it begins it may continue
one seed, one life, one thing, one word,
growing after another.

Scene 5: Removal
Leaving Old town, Old Fields, Old Grounds.
Our great mother, where the red birds and animals of night lived,
Chikasha, we loved the trees. We said Goodbye to them
the night before we left our homes, walking now.
We touched the beautiful leaves
of the spirit of trees, the sacred trees.
Then we entered their darkness and passed through
away from the mounds of earth.

Oh Misha Sipokni, Sacred Mississippi. Water the color of life.
You flow through our veins, traveling constant. Old Tombigbee,
we left our gardens. Savannah. Feathers of Swan. Post Oak Town.
Big town. Red Grains.

Seller of dreams, if I could pass gold over your hand every night, I would hear the old men singing. Our horses would run loose in the new world.  Seller of dreams give me the shakers, the cup of cornmeal, unlatch the walls of disease and bring the fire. Seller of dreams, even history is naked.

No matter who, we respect the smallest, the least,
like the spider in our old story who carried the fire back to us,
walked across water from the island with fire on its back
and returned the sacred fire to its place,
our center, both as a nation and as a man, a woman, a child.
Fire is our name.

Scene 6: Spider Brings Fire

All:   Look, there is fire! We need fire. It’s in that hollow sycamore tree on the island. Fire, how we need it. But who should go get it?

Spider:   I am so small but still I can walk across water.

Crow:   But what about me, the crow, and my lovely white feathers? And look how I can fly so mighty and powerful across the water over to that tree. Even if my feathers        get a little dirty, at least I can carry back that fire just like a piece of wood.

Crow:   Oh my, it is so hot over here. I can’t get in that tree. Oh, I am burning up. I’m on fire. Even flying. Oh no! My feathers have turned black!

Others:   Look at Crow. His feathers are charred.

Spider:   I must say once again I am just a small creature, but I know I can bring fire on my back.

Owl:   Not at all. Let me do it. I am already going. An owl can bring fire. We have wisdom. And look how fast we zoom in for a landing, faster than…Youch!

Others:   Oh no. He went to the tree and his eyes have turned red. Even the wise owl returned without fire. He has rings around his eyes. Look how he rubs and rubs to get the smoke out. It must hurt.

Spider:   I may be just a little spider, and my voice is so small, but I’ve carried things across the water before.

Snake:   I can swim through water faster than anything. Maybe I am pale and look weak and thin, but a snake can go into the tree at the bottom and reach the fire without fear of smoke. See how quickly I travel on water? What a great swimmer I am. But oh no, I am getting scorched!

Others:   Poor us, even the racer cannot bring us our fire and we need it so much. Well, okay Spider, you are little and kind of ugly with your black downy hair and your eight legs. But you are the last one who might have a chance. So we will let you try it.

Spider:   See how I cross the water?

Others:   Oh Spider! Spider! Look, did you know a spider could weave a bowl out of silk and clay? And carry it on her back. A spider can bring a coal in that bowl and return to the others.

Spider, you have brought us fire. You are our helper, our friend. You have found a way to bring fire and you are so small! Who would have known? On second thought, you are so lovely. We never really said you were ugly. We will always take care of you spider, and all the rest of the beautiful eight-legged creatures.

Scene 7: Hymn
We were a river losing its water,
then we were trees losing deep roots
and a fire burning away, and before we lost heart
some took the new ways and changed them to ours
and their songs became our songs.
We made them our own.

Scene 8: Double Header
In dark times, yet an ember burned, a stick of kindling as if
the fire alone knew it was a map
we would one day follow back to our source…
We have all been given the fire.
Let us burn our way into the world,
let it light our dreams.

Finale: Fire and Light
Oh, builders of fire, never give up,
strike the stones together.
Tonight, such simple radiance will walk out of the fire toward us,
the old ones, the sacred dog beside them
they will embrace us and offer what will make us strong,
what will open the bright world
as we step toward it, as we walk through it
wearing sunlight, walking with creation
into the shining world,
the heart of the human made of light
and songs and dreams.

Jerod TateLowak Shoppala ̍ (Fire & Light)